The stereotype of a writer looks something like this: a lonely figure in a dark room of a cabin, pecking away at an ancient typewriter or staring into the pale glow of a computer screen, working with only a smoldering cigarette or a bottle of Pinot Gris for company.
But while this reclusive lifestyle might have its merits, many modern writers have taken a decidedly more social approach to achieving success in their field. The same way other industries have guilds and societies to further their professions, authors can join writers’ associations to connect with industry peers, access resources, and bolster their careers and their standing in the literary community.
Writers’ associations exist to create specialized communities in the literary world, to connect writers with each other as well as with other industry professionals like literary agents and publishers. These organizations also advocate for the interests of their member writers, promoting industry standards and providing certain services for those among their ranks. While some are small and cater only to regional groups or niche genres, others are international in scale, and wield considerable power even outside of the industry.
Thinking of Joining a Writers’ Association?
While a writers’ association can be a wonderful resource for a writer looking to further his or her career, like any organization, membership has both advantages and disadvantages. So before you make this career-altering decision, check out our top 5 reasons to consider joining a writers’ organization… and three reasons to consider taking a pass.
1. A Sense of Community
Why join a writers’ association? Well, why does anybody join a club?
By design, authorship can be a rather solitary profession, but joining a society of like-minded individuals can go a long way towards making the literary community actually feel like a community.
It can be exciting to rub shoulders with other people who live and work like you do and who share many of your goals and dreams, especially with the online connectivity made possible by an increasingly digital age. From newsletters to message boards to huge annual conferences supported by certain organizations, there is no better platform for writers to follow, learn from, and support one another in the craft they love.
2. An Air of Professionalism
For a professional writer, simply being a member of a prestigious writers’ association conveys a certain gravitas and authority. Many such organizations don’t take just anybody—some demand a certain number of publications in the association’s purview, while others require that a certain level of members’ income come exclusively from paid writing.
In these cases, not only does membership confer elite status, but it serves as a marker of high accomplishment as well. Simply listing membership in certain organizations on your resume can automatically warrant a second look from employers, a boon for any professional.
3. Networking Opportunities and Exclusive Resources
Hanging around with other writers is a fine perk, but most writers’ associations are far more than just glorified social clubs.
Membership can put you in contact with seasoned authors willing to share their expertise and wisdom with less experienced writers. Others attract other powerbrokers in the literary world—editors and publishers, literary agents and producers—giving you access to connections unavailable to most.
Still others host job boards, or offer access to prestigious internships, fellowships, writing contests, or online libraries.
When choosing a writers’ association to join, be sure to compare these offerings to be sure that the organization you ultimately join can provide for your goals as a writer.
4. Community Support and Advocacy
Many writers’ associations function a little like trade unions, working to advance both the interests of the literary industry and those of their member writers. Some, like the Romance Writers of America (RWA), lobby for best publishing practices for its members, including fair contracts between authors, literary agents and publishers.
Others, like the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), actually take legal action on behalf of their members, settling contract and copyright disputes in and out of court. Yet others provide financial benefits, such as an emergency medical fund accessible only to members.
Such advocacy elevates the literary community as a whole—and while every member might not benefit from every one of these advantages, there is a sense of security that comes from a big organization having your back.
5. A Chance to Pay It Forward
Imagine yourself as a writer 20 years into your career. With the help and support of your fellow writers, you’ve well established yourself as a master of your craft, a respected figure among both the reading public and the literary community at large.
You’ve achieved such success that you no longer need assistance from your writers’ association to advance your career further—and yet, there is still so much more that such an organization can offer. In fact, the most rewarding aspect of membership of a writers’ association isn’t personally beneficial at all:
Membership in a writers’ association is an excellent chance to give back to the literary community—and an opportunity to advance the cause of literature itself.
Along your journey as an author, you were no doubt influenced by more established and experienced writers who helped and advised you along the way. Now comes your chance to play this role for a new generation of writers, to pass on the wisdom and skills you’ve accumulated over a long career.
Now it’s your membership dues that pay struggling writers’ medical bills; now it’s your support that encourages them to improve their craft and advance their careers. And, should you eventually join the leadership of your organization, you too can help advocate for your community, and make life easier for writers all around the country.
A Few More Things to Consider
While membership in a writers’ association certainly has a multitude of benefits, there drawbacks as well that should be given consideration.
1. Expensive Dues
Writers’ associations are nonprofit organizations, but most if not all require that their members pay monthly or annual dues, as well as a processing fee for new members.
While smaller organizations may not charge much, larger or more prestigious associations may ask hundreds of dollars a year. For a struggling writer, this can be a forbidding cost, and should be weighed against any potential benefits when you’re considering applying for membership.
There’s an old writer’s adage that says something along the lines of, “If you’re not writing, you’re not earning.” And while membership in a writers’ association can potentially boost your career, actually using your membership can do more harm than good, distracting you from writing, editing, or submitting—which, after all, is what pays the bills.
Networking, socializing, attending writers’ conferences… all take time away from writing that could be making you money. Even the process of applying and setting up your member profile can be surprisingly time-consuming.
So before you consider applying for a membership, take a hard look at your calendar and calculate just how much time you can afford to lose.
3. The “Fishbowl” Phenomenon
One of a writers’ association’s greatest benefits can also be a great disadvantage to an author. Writers’ organizations can put you into contact with authors all around the country, and even the globe, and hobnobbing with fellow craftsmen can be both thrilling and enormously informative. However, spending too much time associating with writers and nobody else can actually be detrimental to your craft.
All writers draw in some way from their life experiences to inform their writing. This requires you to actually go out and live—to have new experiences and adventures from which to create new stories, and meet different sorts of people upon which to base new characters. But if you’re spending all your time in the echo chamber of a writers’ association, you run the very real risk of your writing going a little stale after a while.
Participating in a writers’ association can be a wonderful opportunity—just so long as you don’t let it get in the way of you living your life.
Choosing the Writers’ Association That’s Right for You
Okay! So you’ve made up your mind: you’re going to take the leap and join a writers’ association.
But there are literally hundreds of different organizations to choose from out there, all serving different markets and catering to different kinds of authors.
To help you parse out what kind of writers’ association is a good fit for you, let’s look at some of the ways these organizations differentiate themselves from each other.
- Size: Some writers’ associations are national in scale and global in reach, while others comprise only a few hundred members. Some of the largest include the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Authors Guild.
- Genre: A great many writers’ associations cater to a specific genre. These include the Horror Writers Association, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and Erotica Readers and Writers.
- Location: Often, writers’ associations limit their membership to certain geographical locations— usually a state but occasionally a whole region of the country. These include the Fellowship of Southern Writers, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and Women Writing in the West.
- Subject: A writers’ association might be dedicated solely to writing on a specific topic. These include the Cat Writers’ Association, the Eastern Ski Writers Association, and the Dog Writers Association of America.
- Race/Sex/Creed: This one’s pretty self-explanatory: an association exclusive to one ethnicity, gender, or religion. These include the Islamic Writers Alliance, American Christian Fiction Writers, and Sisters in Crime.
As you can see, there are so many different varieties writers’ associations that with a little research, you should have no trouble finding one that suits your purposes.
Remember: writers’ associations are there for your benefit. Join one, by all means, but only if membership will further your goals, boost your career, or make you a better writer.
Otherwise, a writers’ association is just another club.
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